At least six Indian Americans were honored as 2018 state honorees for the 23rd annual Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, Prudential announced Feb. 6.

The Spirit of Community Awards is a nationwide program, conducted by Prudential Financial in collaboration with the National Association of Secondary Schools Principals, honoring students in grades 5 through 12 for outstanding volunteer service. Two youth volunteers in each state, as well as the District of Columbia, were named as state honorees, totaling 102 students.

Each of the honorees were provided $1,000, silver medallions and a trip to Washington, D.C., in April for four days of national recognition events. During the trip, 10 volunteers will be named America’s top youth volunteers of 2018.

Among the Indian American contingent of honorees were Aditya Sidapara of Phoenix, Ariz.; Sivani Arvapalli of South Windsor, Conn.; Vani Sharma of Fishers, Ind.; Anjali Chadha of Louisville, Ky.; Shrey Pothini of Savage, Minn.; and Praneeth Alla of Exton, Pa.

In addition to the state honorees, 234 other individuals were named Distinguished Finalists, among which were 25 Indian Americans and South Asian Americans. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion. Nearly 500 other applicants were awarded Certificates of Excellence for their volunteer work, Prudential said in a news release.

“Prudential is proud to recognize these remarkable young people for using their energy, creativity and compassion to bring meaningful change to their communities,” said Prudential chairman and chief executive officer John Strangfeld in a statement.

Added NASSP executive director JoAnn Bartoletti, “These middle level and high school students have not only improved the lives of the people and communities they’ve served – they also set an important example for their peers. These honorees prove that you’re never too young to make a difference.”

Sidapara, 17, is a senior at BASIS Scottsdale. He co-founded an educational initiative that is teaching computer coding to students living in four refugee camps in East Africa, aiming to lift them out of poverty and help meet the worldwide demand for skilled software engineers.

Two years ago, he met two young men who were conducting coding workshops in refugee communities in the Phoenix area, and envisioned a full-fledged software vocational training program for refugee students, it added. Together, they launched the Refugee Code Academy and began working to bring coding boot camps to refugee settlements in Tanzania, Malawi and Kenya.

As a member of the academy team, Sidapara has developed a curriculum for offline digital classes taught by local volunteer teachers, built relationships with local NGOs, recruited volunteer programmers, and forged relationships with U.S. firms that could mentor or employ refugee students who are able to emigrate from Africa. He also is working to augment his academy’s curriculum with virtual reality technology, Prudential said.

Arvapalli, 13, was nominated by the Indian Valley Family YMCA. The eighth-grader at Timothy Edwards Middle School volunteers with a school group that has raised nearly $90,000 for child-focused charities by conducting talent shows and organizing benefit dinners and entertainment events, the Prudential bio said.

Six high school students started the “Power of Peace" volunteer group several years ago to improve the lives of children. In 2013, Arvapalli participated in the group’s first fundraiser, a talent show, and joined the group a year later.

The POP group meets once a week to discuss upcoming events, projects and ideas. As one of their events draws near, members break into four teams to organize logistics, guest reception and donations, food and stage operations. When it’s over, the members pick a charity to support with their proceeds. The group has raised funds for sick children at the Hole in the Wall Gang camp, “adopted” 10 orphans each year at the Atma Vidya Ashram in India, donated Thanksgiving turkeys to a food bank and provided Christmas toys for a local children’s hospital, it said.

On her own, Arvapalli also spent the last three summers tutoring children and organized a neighborhood lemonade stand to raise money for a school program, the bio added.

Sharma, 11, a sixth-grader at Sand Creek Intermediate School, has been visiting the Ronald McDonald House at Riley’s Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis regularly for several years to prepare meals and entertain the families of hospitalized children, Prudential said. She also conducted a collection drive to provide books and toys to the kids at the facility.

On the days she volunteers at the Ronald McDonald house, she helps her mother decide on the menu and goes with her to shop for groceries, and then performs cooking tasks such as making salads and baking cookies, the bio noted.

Chadha, 15, a junior at duPont Manual High School, founded a nonprofit organization to educate and empower minority high school girls in the world of technology, and began her mission last summer by offering 10 girls a seven-week program of classroom training and real-world experience.

After forming her nonprofit Empowered, Chadha applied for and received more than $30,000 in grants to develop her program, the bio said. She recruited her pre-calculus teacher as program manager, spent many hours researching and planning a teaching curriculum, and identified a group of girls who could benefit most from the training, it said.

During her seven-week program, the girls learned computer coding skills for designing and building websites, and heard a series of presentations from 10 successful minority women, including Kentucky’s lieutenant governor, it said. Chadha has received more than 40 requests to sign up for her next program, which she is now working to expand into a year-round endeavor.

Pothini, 14, an eighth-grader at Eagle Ridge Middle School, has organized an annual city-wide “day of service” for the past three years to mobilize community members to help others, Prudential noted.

Pothini took his idea for a “Service Day Saturday” to the city’s mayor, city council and city administrator. After receiving permission, he put an ad in the local paper letting people know about the event and then formed a planning committee, according to his bio. He also talked to the city fire, police and communications departments; the local library; every school in the area; and local businesses and nonprofits.

On the day of Pothini’s event, residents were encouraged to conduct their own volunteer projects or participate in one of 12 that he had organized. More than 1,500 people participated in last year’s Service Day Saturday, collecting 4,000 pounds of food, donating 2,000 books to nonprofits, decorating 4,000 lunch bags for Meals on Wheels, assembling 500 bracelet kits for hospitalized kids, putting together 375 dental kits for homeless youth, and raising money to purchase 20 goats for families in Kenya, according to the bio.

Alla, 15, a junior at The Episcopal Academy, spent more than 1,000 hours creating a website for a charity in India, improving its ability to collect and manage donations, publicize projects and track income and expenditures, Prudential said. He also founded a network of youth clubs to raise money to improve the education of children in India.

In 2015, Alla traveled to India to see the situation for himself. While observing dire conditions of poverty, he also was impressed with the work of the District NRI Foundation, which seeks to improve education, develop rural villages and provide people with basic necessities, his bio noted.

After speaking with its leaders, he learned that they badly needed a user-friendly website to raise funds and awareness. Alla returned home determined to design such a tool for them.

The site so far has helped the District NRI Foundation raise more than $250,000, and is now being used by another Indian nonprofit to collect food for food banks.

To get other students involved, Alla organized NRI Youth Clubs in the U.S., mobilizing high schoolers to participate in projects benefiting both their local communities and rural villages in India, it added. There are now 25 of these clubs operating in several states.

Last year, at least seven Indian American whiz kids were named among the state honorees with 12 others being named distinguished finalists (see India-West article here). From that group, two were named among the 10 best youth volunteers in the U.S. in 2017 (see India-West article here).

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